Assault Weapons Ban ’Hardest’ to Pass, Senator Feinstein Says

A proposed ban on sales of assault weapons would likely be an “uphill fight” and may not be part of gun legislation that reaches the floor of the Senate, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said.

“This has never been easy,” Feinstein said on CNN’s “State of the Union” yesterday. “This is the hardest of the hard.”

A ban on the military-style weapons is among the legislative goals President Barack Obama outlined in his recommendations to Congress on curbing gun violence after the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School slaughter of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut. Vice President Joe Biden said Jan. 25 it will take “persuasion and information” to garner the necessary support in Congress to enact the White House package.

Feinstein introduced legislation to outlaw sales of assault-style weapons on Jan. 24. The new legislation prohibits the sale or transfer of 158 of the most commonly owned military- style assault weapons. It exempts all assault weapons legally possessed prior to passage of the law and excludes more than 2,200 hunting and sporting rifles.

The 1994 assault-weapons ban, signed by President Bill Clinton, expired in 2004 and, until the school shooting in Newtown, there’d been little effort in Congress to renew it.

Feinstein said yesterday that an assault-weapons ban might be left out of a package of proposals on gun regulation that the Senate puts forward for a vote. If that happens, she said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada assured her that it could be introduced by Feinstein as an amendment.

Ban’s Outlook

A ban would be defeated in the U.S. Senate today unless some members changed their current views, based on a Bloomberg review of recent lawmaker statements and interviews.

At least six of the 55 senators who caucus with Democrats have recently expressed skepticism or outright opposition to a ban, the review found. That means Democrats wouldn’t have a simple 51-vote majority to pass the measure, let alone the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster to bring it to a floor vote.

Asked on CNN if she concedes such legislation will be difficult to pass, Feinstein said, “I conceded, because the NRA is venal,” referring to the National Rifle Association, which opposes new restrictions.

“They come after you, they put together large amounts of money to defeat you,” Feinstein said.

Urban Support

Feinstein was more optimistic about the chances of the ban being approved during an interview yesterday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” citing support for the measure from the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Major City Chiefs.

“I think I can get it passed because the American people are very much for it,” Feinstein said.

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said on “Face the Nation” that he agreed with a ban on assault weapons though he said the problem for large cities is concealable handguns.

“Only 2 percent of the people we have arrested for guns in the last two years have had assault weapons,” Kelly said. “We don’t want them on the street, make no mistake about it, but the problem is the handgun.”

Kelly said more than 6 million guns were sold last year without buyers undergoing a background check. He said a universal background check would help law enforcement identify so-called straw purchasers who legally buy weapons and then sell them to others who cannot lawfully buy guns.

Background Checks

It would “make them more aware of the fact that they’re now on record and you can record purchases that they make,” he said.

Representative Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Budget Committee, said yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program that Congress needs to examine how criminals get their guns.

“That’s what the background check issue is all about,” Ryan said. “We need to look into making sure that there aren’t big loopholes where a person can illegally purchase a firearm.”

He said the legislative response to Sandy Hook shouldn’t be limited to access to guns.

“Let’s go beyond just this debate and make sure we get deeper,” Ryan said. “What’s our policy on mental illness? What’s going on in our culture that produces this kind of thing?”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Schoenberg in Washington at tschoenberg@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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